China’s dilemma over civil society organizations

image of China’s dilemma over civil society organizations

There are few questions in Asian politics more consequential than the prospects for democratization in a China that has embraced economic liberalization but maintains an authoritarian political system of one-party rule and very limited public participation in the selection of officials and government policies. An important and useful means of monitoring China’s potential for democratic transformation is to evaluate the role that civil society plays in China – how strong Chinese civil society is relative to the state, what kind of activities civil society organizations (CSOs) are involved in and how CSOs and the government interact. Indeed, CSOs present the Chinese leadership with a dilemma. On one hand, these organizations can under certain circumstances enhance governance and thereby take some of the pressure off officials who are struggling to identify and meet the needs of tens of millions of displaced (and potentially disgruntled) Chinese citizens who are not coping well with the dramatic socio-economic changes of the reform era. On the other hand, private organizations outside direct state or party control represent a possible challenge to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authority and legitimacy because some of them invariably pursue agendas that conflict with China’s current political system and CCP philosophy. Official reaction to CSOs has therefore been mixed and somewhat contradictory. Given this inconsistency, and the fact that dealing with a more assertive civil society is a relatively new issue for the Chinese government, this is likely to be a transitory phase that could lead to the ruling regime’s assent to greater legal and political space for civic activism.

Related Subject(s): Democracy and Governance
Countries: China
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